The hoary good-bad-boy-versus-bad-bad-boy melodrama is tarted up with the topicality of mixed-martial arts and YouTubed high school fight clubs in Never Back Down, whose insipid fraudulence makes its Fox-teen-TV inspirations look like touchstones of neorealism. Consumed with guilt and rage over the DWI death of his father, quick-fisted football star Jake (colorless Sean Faris, a Tom Cruise clone lacking even the original’s kiddie-pool depth) adjusts badly to the family move to sunny Orlando; the local kids have passed up part-timing at Disney World to brawl for fun on the lawns of their palatial estates, not a cop or parent in sight, and Jake suffers a beatdown by an MMA-champ bully (Cam Gigandet, scowling and flexing like Richard Widmark’s mega-cut grandson). Burning for revenge, Jake heads for the gym operated by a solitary vale tudo fighter (slumming Djimon Hounsou), who tersely advises him to control his emotions, breathe when delivering every blow, and other familiar sensei standards (the “grasshopper speech,” as Faris smirks). Hounsou’s physical presence is commanding even in the rote training montages, but the egregiously predictable arc of his lonely man with a haunting secret that echoes the hero’s is embarrassing palaver; this is the kind of potboiler that belabors the passage to maturity and responsibility, then contrives to end with a rib-smashing brawl in a parking lot between the Himbos of Good and Evil. Presumably turn-on-a-dime bullshit moralizing is necessary to score a PG-13 amid glamorous mayhem. Aside from sweaty abdominal close-ups of the beefcake leads, the most overt suggestion that someone is getting off on all the combat comes when Ryan’s ex-trophy girl slips on Jake’s fight gloves (“Oooh, they’re sweaty!”) and grapples him to the floor, ready to submit. The ethical nitwittery of “fight so you don’t have to fight again” and invocations of The Iliad in this context brazenly transform a dumb bone-cruncher into a putridly dissembling one.
- Summit Entertainment
- 106 min
- Jeff Wadlow
- Chris Hauty
- Sean Faris, Amber Heard, Djimon Hounsou, Cam Gigandet, Evan Peters, Leslie Hope
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